The 2016 Branson.com Honors Purple Heart Event roared to life on April 21 with a motorcycle run coordinated by Taney County Sherriff, Jimmy Russell. Twelve riders participated this year and more are expected for 2017. Later that evening, at the Opening Ceremony held at the Starlite Theatre, some truly fantastic Branson entertainers kicked off the event that first night including Billy Dean and Jarrett Dougherty as Masters of Ceremony, AYO Voices of Glory, #1 Hits of the 60's and 50's Too, and The Blackwoods. Opening statements were given by Robert Puskar, National Commander of MOPH and Branson High School's Air Force Junior ROTC Color Guard, under the instruction of Colonel (Ret.) David Burke, was there to post the Colors. Everett Kelly, Region II Commander of MOPH, led everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance and the Opening Prayer was led by Jimmy Young, past National Chaplain of MOPH. Finishing out the night, Billy Dean performed a concert for the Veterans, their guests, and Branson visitors.

First Place Jimmy Young

On the second day of this special event, 47 adventurous fishermen, all Purple Heart Recipients, participated in the annual fishing tournament hosted by Scotty's Trout Dock on Lake Taneycomo. First Place went to Jimmy Young, 2nd to Carl Kidder, 3rd to Tony Serna, 4th to Eustice Shriver and in a tie for 5th were Gordon Brenner and Herbert Kent.

Non-fishermen and guests were treated to an excursion to two Branson wineries, Mount Pleasant and Stone Hill, shopping and lunch at the Branson Craft Mall, and a visit to the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Wall.

The visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall replica at Welk Resorts in Branson was an emotional experience for our Veterans. The exuberance that had been onboard the bus to get there was replaced with a quiet reverence as the Purple Heart recipients and their guests approached. Some knelt at the wall, viewing names of those they served with, while others gathered together and shared a quiet story or two. Many expressed their gratitude to Welk Resorts for allowing them the opportunity to remember the more than 58,000 American souls represented on the memorial.

Later that afternoon, participants were offered a chance to listen to guest speaker Ted Knox, a U. S. Navy Corpsman who, while serving as a U. S. Marine Medic in Vietnam, was wounded while giving aide under fire. The night wrapped up with a delectable plated dinner followed by dancing, complete with DJ, at the Radisson Hotel.

Purple Heart Dinner Purple Heart Dancing

The closing ceremony was also held at the Starlite Theatre with Dave Hamner, of Hamner's Unbelievable Variety Show, as the Master of Ceremonies. Frank Van Hoy, National Service Director of MOPH, led the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by Carl Dietrich, Past Commander, Department of Missouri MOPH, with the Opening Prayer. Performances started off with The Haygoods singing the National Anthem, Barbara Fairchild and Roy Morris, All Hands on Deck, Johnny Cash from Legends In Concert, and finishing things out were The Blackwoods and a video tribute by The Texas Tenors. Larry and Lianne Milton, Founders and Board Members of Branson Tourism Center and Branson.com, delivered the closing remarks. The ceremony came to a close with the Branson High School Air Force Junior ROTC Color Guard, under the instruction of Colonel (Ret.) David Burke, retiring the Colors. The 8th Annual Purple Heart event was concluded with a special performance by the legendary Gene Watson.

We would like to mention the wonderful vendors that took part in the Vendor Village at the Radisson Hotel: Wounded Warrior Family Support, KIA, Quilts of Honor, Infidel Lures, Purple Heart Riders, and Mary Shantag with POW Network. Special thanks goes out to Jimmy Russell for taking time out of his very crazy day to lead the Purple Heart recipients on the motorcycle ride, never asking for anything in return and showing them all such honor and respect. Also, a big "thank you" to Lamar Patten with Scotty's Trout Dock for providing all of the boats, equipment and fishing licenses for Purple Heart recipients and to all of the tournament captains for making this such a memorable event.

We are extremely excited about 2017's event, taking place April 20-22, and look forward to a record year with the Purple Heart Riders attending. Although early registration is encouraged, Annette Wood, Director of Sales and Marketing for the Branson Tourism Center, the parent company of Branson.com, points out that there is no closing time for the registration of Purple Hear Recipients. "If you are a Purple Heart Recipient, this is your event and we want you there whenever you register," she said. For further information on the 9th Annual Branson.com Honors Purple Heart Recipients please call 1-800-268-4014. All events are free to Purple Heart Recipients.